Stay Comfortable and Safe on the Water with the Best Fishing Life Vest

Every angler needs a good fishing life vest…but not every angler needs the same kind. Here’s how to choose.

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It’s a good rule of thumb to use a life vest whenever you’re on a boat. Also known as a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) or life jacket, life vests provide buoyancy that can save your life if you’re thrown overboard. You should wear a life vest whether you’re float fishing the Missouri River or kayaking for bass in central Florida.

While every fisherman should own a good life vest, not every life vest is ideal for fishing. A fishing life vest must allow ease of movement so you can fish, and contain storage compartments so you will have small items at hand. Beyond that, consider the water conditions you’re going to fish. Some life jackets are made to keep you alive in whitewater conditions, while others are better for trolling on lakes. Either way, we’ve got you covered. Below is a thorough guide to the best fishing life vests available today.

Best Inflatable Life Vest: Bluestorm Gear Stratus 35 Inflatable PFD

Best Kayak Fishing Life Vest: NRS Chinook OS Fishing Lifejacket

Best Fishing Life Vest For Float Fishing: Kent Type I Life Jacket

Best Fishing Life Vest For Kids: XPS Deluxe Hinged Life Jacket For Kids

Best Basic Fishing Life Vest: XPS Deluxe Fishing Life Vest

Best Budget Fishing Life Vest: Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jacket

Features To Consider When Shopping For A Fishing Life Vest

When you’re looking for a new fishing life jacket, you need to consider safety components, fit over whatever else you’ll be wearing, and storage capacity. It also should be comfortable enough for you to wear for long stretches of time.

Do you want a lightweight fishing life vest?

An inflatable life vest is a lightweight PFD that is especially good for anglers who go boating in hot climates. Because they’re so lightweight, research has shown that people will actually wear inflatable life vests more often and for longer durations than a classic foam life vest.

Most inflatable vests inflate automatically when submerged in water, but there is a small lag between submersion and inflation. This means that you must be a strong swimmer to use an inflatable life vest. They’re also not appropriate for whitewater scenarios or activities like water skiing where you are regularly submerged. But if you’re a good swimmer and fish in hot climates, an inflatable vest is a fine choice.

Best Inflatable Life Vest for Fishing: Bluestorm Gear Stratus 35 Inflatable PFD

Sleek and Safe

The Bluestorm Gear Stratus 35 Inflatable PFD is a durable, lightweight inflatable life jacket for fishing. It inflates automatically with a replaceable CO2 cylinder when immersed in water, or via a pull cord. In case of failure, you can inflate the vest manually with an oral inflation tube. The light polyester construction keeps you cool in warm temps. A large front pocket provides good storage capacity for such a light vest. When inflated, the vest provides 35-pounds of buoyancy, which is over two times more than what’s required for a type III PFD. This is a sleek safety option for anglers that do a lot of boating in warm weather.

Do you fish from a kayak?

Kayak fishing is a great way for anglers to explore large bodies of water, but one drawback is that you don’t have a lot of extra space to work with. Odds are you are maxing out your kayak’s storage capacity with yourself and your fishing tackle. You need to make every inch count. A kayak fishing life vest provides additional personal storage capacity with lots of quick-access pockets and compartments.

A kayak fishing life vest should have a high back, so that it won’t interfere with the kayak seat. A mesh back is not just for people who go kayak fishing. A kayak life vest is basically a cross between a fishing vest and a life jacket, so if you want to keep all of your tackle close by without layering a sling pack or fishing vest over your life jacket, this is a great option, no matter the size of the boat.

Best Kayak Fishing Life Vest: NRS Chinook OS Fishing Lifejacket

Full Function

The NRS Chinook OS Fishing Lifejacket is a U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD with a high-back design, making it ideal for kayaks and raft seats. Different sized storage pouches keep all your fishing gear organized and convenient to access. The vest even comes with a built-in rod holder. High-visibility orange means you’ll be easy to spot if you need rescue. Importantly, the life vest provides a solid 16.5 pounds of floatation.

Do you need a PFD for float fishing?

Life vests are designed to keep you afloat, but only certain life vests are made specifically to keep you face-up if you are knocked unconscious. This risk isn’t particularly high for most boaters, but for float fishermen who raft or take drift boats through Class II and Class III rapids, you need to be prepared for this worst-case-scenario.

Float fishing anglers should buy a fishing life vest that is designed for whitewater conditions. This means that you need a life vest that comes equipped with a floatation collar that will help you keep your face above the surface when floating on your back. An inflatable life vest is not appropriate in this situation—you need a filled life vest.

Best Fishing Life Vest For Float Fishing: Kent Type I Life Jacket

Safety in rough water

The Kent Type I Life Jacket is made to increase your chance of survival in rough water. It’s specifically designed to keep unconscious wearers face up in the water. High visibility orange fabric means you will be easy to spot by rescuers. The life vest provides a minimum of 32-pounds of buoyancy. The life vest is a must-have option for anglers who fish whitewater.

Do you need a fishing life vest for kids?

It’s especially important for kids to wear life vests. Kids generally aren’t as strong swimmers as adults (though everyone, including the strongest swimmers, should wear life vests when they’re on the water). If you’re bringing a child fishing, you need to provide him or her with a life vest that is made specifically for kids, because a life vest can easily fail if it’s too large for the person wearing it.

Make sure your child’s fishing life vest fits snugly, provides enough buoyancy, and is comfortable enough to wear at all times when fishing from a boat or canoe. That will make it easier for the child to keep it on.

Best Fishing Life Vest For Kids: XPS Deluxe Hinged Life Jacket for Kids


The XPS Deluxe Hinged Life Jacket for Kids is safe and comfortable. Seven segmented hinge points make the life jacket flexible, mobile, and comfortable. It comes in bright purple or green to allow for maximum visibility. Durable nylon matches adult life vests in strength. The life jacket is made for kids weighing between 50 and 90 pounds.

Do you want a basic fishing life vest?

Many anglers fish in different conditions during different times of the year. That can be difficult to sort out what kind of life jacket you really need, in which case a specialized life vest may not be the best choice. If that’s you, consider a versatile vest. Look for a fishing life vest that has one or two easy-access pouches but doesn’t try to do too much besides its main function—keeping you at the surface of the water and saving your life.

Best Basic Fishing Life Vest: XPS Deluxe Fishing Life Vest


The XPS Deluxe Fishing Life Vest has everything you should look for in an all-around fishing life vest. The life jacket is not bloated with features, but it still has some nice touches that make it ideal for anglers. Body-hugging soft foam combines with large armholes to foster mobility. Side entry hand warmers are good for cold weather. A pocket for pliers or other small tools means you can keep fishing essentials nearby. 2 D-rings also allow you to keep other gear easy to reach.

Best budget life vest: What you get for under $30

When it comes down to it, a fishing life vest needs to do one job: provide adequate floatation. You don’t need extra frills like storage capacity as long as you’re willing to bring other means of storage with you to the water. If you’re on a budget, look for a basic life vest that is U.S. Coast Guard approved. These will be less expensive than a more fully-featured fishing life vest, but will still keep you safe. Make sure your budget life jacket fits well, then hit the water with confidence.

Best budget fishing life vest: Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jacket


The Hardcore Water Sports High Visibility Life Jacket is a no-frills fishing PFD. It doesn’t have any storage pouches but it provides the necessary safety feature of floatation for people fishing from boats. It’s U.S. Coast Guard approved and comes in various high-visibility colors and sizes.


Q: Why do I need a fishing life vest?

Life vests save lives, period. A fishing life vest provides additional features that allow you to comfortably wear a PFD while fishing.

Q: How do I choose a fishing life vest?

Consider how much you’re willing to spend and what features you are looking for. Fishing life vests can range from bare-bones life jackets to fully-featured kayak fishing vests. Whatever life vest you end up purchasing, make sure you’re willing to wear it for long periods of time.

Q: How should a fishing vest fit?

A fishing life vest should fit snugly while also allowing mobility. Make sure that it is also rated to match your weight.

A Final Word On Shopping For Fishing Life Vests

Purchasing the best fishing life vest may not seem like a very exciting way to spend your money, but remember: It can save your life. A good fishing life vest, which fits well and has fishing-friendly features, makes it an asset, not an inconvenience.